Spiritual art

[dropcap size=big]T[/dropcap]he eighth edition of Art Stage Singapore unveiled the inaugural Signature Collectors’ Visits that saw art collectors opening up their collections in their abodes to the art fair’s VIPs.

Collaborating with Art Stage, Michelangelo and Lourdes Samson opened up their home as part of the Visits last month.  The couple focuses on Southeast Asian contemporary art, with their current curation drawing in on socio-political themes such as post-colonialism, urbanisation and religion.

Photo by Don Wong/Studio EAST

Lourdes Samson tells us her experience with sharing her collection with other art enthusiasts, how she curates and cares for her art at home.

How was it opening up your home to show your collection?

I don’t think I’ve had so many people at home, to be honest. But it was good to have so many art lovers present because they really get it: non-art people come to my dining room and ask if I have a rock climbing wall but art lovers are always filled with wonder and curiosity when they encounter that particular wall installation.

I hope that those who attended the tour felt that the experience was really about showcasing the diversity within contemporary SEA art rather than a projection of our own personalities as collectors.

What themes surround your art collection?

We focus on Southeast Asian contemporary art, which is characterised by strong narrative threads and an engagement with social issues. Southeast Asia is also deeply spiritual, which reflects in the use of religious symbols as a way of making sense of religion’s role in contemporary life or to express the need for religious tolerance.

What’s currently on your walls now?

In our current hang, we have works that discuss post-colonial identity, history, politics as well as the negative effects of modern life such as urbanisation, isolation, and alienation. It also features interesting ways that artists are using local materials in contemporary art, such as with ready-made items or found objects in their pieces. Others use materials usually associated with craft, such as thread and fabric or what’s locally available, like rattan and leather.

While we do have a lot of paintings, we are increasingly buying works in other mediums such as video, photography in the form of light boxes or collages, wall installations, and large sculptural pieces.

How do you decide on curating your pieces at home?

At this point, all the available wall space in our house has been filled. So if we want to put something new up, we will need to bring something down. I usually decide where to put them based on size or if there is a potential for ‘conversation’ with another work beside it. This can be a similar use of material or themes between works.  The wall installation by John Santos III in our dining room features everyday objects that are wrapped in fabric and string and then resinated.  Nearby we have installed a painting of a wrapped cross by Nona Garcia. Both these works reference wrapped objects but use different mediums. The meanings of the works are also very different. Santos uses the objects as a reflection on the movement from figuration to abstraction. Garcia uses the wrapped object as an interrogation of the meanings embedded in religious objects. 

You have some rather large scale and delicate works displayed. How do you put them up?

I always get professional art handlers, such as Helu-trans, to come and install the works for me. Since they are used to installing works for museums and galleries, they know how to care for the works properly such as using gloves when necessary, padding the floor with cardboard when setting down the art pieces, or packing the works in wax paper and bubble wrap for storage. They also get the job done faster because they are used to hanging works, keeping pieces in the center and at eye-level on the wall.

Singapore’s humid environment is problematic when displaying works. How do you circumvent this at home?

We try to change our curation around every 2 years or so. The weather is not very conducive to artworks so we will sometimes bring down works to minimise their exposure to humidity and dust.

There are dehumidifiers in certain sections of the house as well. We usually open the doors and windows to get the air circulation going and stabilise temperatures to prevent mould. It still happens though so when mould appears, we have the works professionally restored and then we put them back into storage to “rest.” The exposure to UV light and dust also affects the works so we try to rest the pieces after they have been displayed for a few years.

What’s your favourite/most meaningful piece in the collection you have displayed and why?

That’s hard to answer because each piece that we buy has its own story for us.  Right now my favourite work is an assemblage piece that we had purchased many years ago but have just recently installed at home. It’s by Filipino artist Norberto Roldan and I actually wrote about it in one of my papers for my MA Asian Art Histories program at Lasalle.  It is a work that features found objects:  devotional cards dedicated to various saints and amulet bottles sold near one of the major Basilicas in Manila. These amulets are mysterious potions that are believed to hold powers of invincibility or protection.These objects are used by Filipinos in the same way: as a means of protection against evil or bad luck. It reveals that the deep spirituality in the Philippines springs from the same well but it is informed by these different sets of beliefs.



6 tips Lourdes Samson stands by on putting up art at home.

01: Think about accessibility and visibility

For spaces with high traffic such as entrances, you have to make sure that the flow of movement is not blocked by artworks. This also ensures your art doesn’t get damaged.

02: Lighting makes a huge difference in presenting art

Strategically placed pin lights can really enhance the way art is displayed. However, if there already is a lot of light exposure in a certain space, consider putting up UV film on windows to prevent your art from fading.

03: Balance is important

Art needs enough negative space to let the pieces “breathe.” If there’s too much crowding on one wall, it will detract from the appreciation of each work. That’s why we have storage space for the works that can’t be displayed at home.

04: Start with objects

Objects are a great way to get into art collecting if you’re just starting out. The small artworks can be interspersed with antiques and home decor pieces to add more personality to a room.

05: Get creative with adding display space

Sliding panels are a great way to add display space to your home. We use them as doors to hide our store room and the clutter of the AV equipment in our TV room but they also serve as extra walls to display paintings.

06: Buy with your heart and your head

The first experience of an artwork is always an aesthetic one but beyond that first impression, understanding what the artist is trying to convey will make your appreciation for the artwork even more meaningful.